Friday, December 30, 2011

85,000 words

First draft of the new novel is complete. 85,000 words. I know the job isn’t over and drafting this bitch is gonna be painful later on, but it feels good to reach the end of a story so quickly. A standalone sci-fi story that will have more audience appeal than Felix ever did. I hope.

No details on what the story is about. It's still too early to give anything away. I suspect it will get a few thousand words longer and then a couple thousand shorter after edits, cuts and drafts. It will average out to my target of 90,000 words. I’m glad I did this now so I can begin the new year with a success! It's just what I needed!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Top Five Most Useless Things Out of School

Continuing the discussion on education I began with my top five most useful things out of school...

Ten years after graduating high school, I look back on the reality of my education. Let's face it. Most of what we learn in school has no application to real life. It's good to be exposed to a wide variety of things. It helps kids find what interests them and what they're good at. But some things are so irrelevant I wonder why school wasted time teaching it.


5 - Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry

Quadratic equations, trigonometry... These are highly specialized fields of mathematics. They have application, they have purpose...if only someone had TOLD ME WHAT THAT PURPOSE IS! That's what bugs me about school most looking back on it. They were only concerned that we memorized and knew what to do and how to pass the test. They didn't even bother to help us understand why we were learning it.

I can say since I graduated, I haven't touched the sin and cos buttons on my calculator. I've forgotten how to use them, and the lost knowledge hasn't affected me one bit. It's just not that relevant in everyday life. Makes me wonder why high school makes such a big deal out of it. Why not make a big deal out of the more practical stuff? Isn't it much more valuable to teach kids how to cook for themselves, or maintain an automobile, instead of the relationship between sides of right triangles? Useful as that right triangle is, I'd much rather have spent the time learning how to live in the real world.


4 - Physics

For me, physics makes sense...to a point. i get momentum. I get conservation of momentum. I get the motion of electrons. I get friction as a concept, but when you try to define it mathematically, the numbers just don't make sense. Especially when class started using units of measurement that didn't make sense in order to define quantities that also didn't make sense.

It's cool you can define how much electrical charge is on a single electron, but when you express the number in joules, it loses all meaning. I get units like pounds of pressure, but when you express force in terms of Newtons... Nope. Didn't make sense.

And don't get me started on the basic equation for friction. It's good to know how to define how much friction is exerted, but the equation requires something called a Frictional Coefficient. All it is to me is you plug in this random number into the equation and you get a random number, and oh hey, it's the correct answer on the test. But what are these coefficients of friction? Why do they make the equation work? Who came up with them, and how? The teacher didn't explain it, so most of this stuff flew over my head.

Some of the more practical stuff like color and light made sense, but when I got into electricity and friction, the numbers just didn't correlate to anything in the real world. Maybe if I were out of high school with a professor who explained these things better, I would have made the connection between the numbers and reality, but what I got didn't make it clear.


3 - Pre Calculus

I hated pre-calc, mostly because it was the worst offender for teaching us stuff without explaining what it was for, or how it was used for anything outside the classroom. The part that stands out most in my mind is the matrix. I know what a matrix is in computer programming and it's one of the most useful data types available (it's often called an "array"). Matrices in math? All the teacher told us about them was plug these numbers into your graphing calculator, hit this button, and you get the answer.

Well, fine, but what are we doing? What is this for? Why is this answer right? I hated that class. I really did.


2 - Sentence Diagramming

This was a 7th grade flop. What the hell is the point of diagramming sentences? What's it supposed to show us? The teacher never explained why we were doing it, and to this day I still don't know what it was used for. Later, in the 9th grade, I was told diagramming was supposed to show us how the English language was structured on the sentence-level.

But learning sentence patterns was way more useful. N.V., N.V.N., N.V.Adj. Stuff like that is easy to understand, and makes sense. Through that I understood that every English sentence must fit a certain word order to make sense. That's why English doesn't have noun genders, because English is a very rigid language. Meaning is tied to the order of the words instead of matching up word endings with noun genders, etc. That makes sense.

But diagramming sentences is a lousy way to demonstrate this. It didn't help that the teacher didn't even try to explain why we were learning how to do it. Completely ridiculous and overly complicated way to teach such a simple concept.


1 - The History I learned in school

The way school teaches history, it's all glazed over and irrelevant. But after watching the History Channel (well, H2 now has the real History Channel programming. You know, actual history stuff and not just lameass reality shows) I realize just how much history I actually didn't learn.

WWII especially. Kids and teenagers are made aware that a great war happened, but they don't go into any detail about what exactly happened.

Another example is the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. I remember it was a very quick lesson in the 8th grade. It was mostly dominated by a pointless extended project to fill time in the new block schedule. Then I saw a special on the History Channel called Black Blizzard which told the story of how the dust bowl happened, how it affected people's lives, and the living hell it was for them.

School treats history like an overview, and it's very boring that way. It doesn't bring any of the events down to a human level. The shows I've seen on TV, ironically, give much more context for history, making it seem like a story instead of just a lesson. As a result, I've forgotten everything I learned in school about social studies and history, but the stuff I learned on TV has stuck with me. It made knowing history important and now I can't get enough of it.


Why bother teaching this stuff at all? Schools have to cut budget, well why not cut crap like this out? Most of it is pointless unless you actually want to pursue a very specialized career. Why couldn't I have learned auto repair in high school? Why couldn't school offer more practical math class instead of making pre calc a requirement? If someone wants to improve education in America, it should start by making school more practical. And if they're going to keep classes like physics and chemistry and pre calc mandatory, at least help us understand why we're learning it. That might inspire more kids to care.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Top Five Most Useful Things Out of School

I've been out of school for ten years. I was the graduating class of 2001, and I think this is a good time to reflect on what I actually needed to know in the working world to survive. Here are my top five things from school that I have used and am so glad I went through school to learn.


5 - Earth Science

I took this course my Freshman year in high school, 1997 - 98. It was one of the hardest classes I'd ever taken up until that point. I got stuck with it for a double period, there was homework every day, the teacher was a no-nonsense, humorless man (on the surface), and I happened to be stuck with a final exam so difficult they offered retakes the following year. Lectures were long and boring and who the fuck cares about the difference between igneous and sedimentary rocks?

But you know what, in spite of all that, I learned a lot in that class. The weather unit was especially interesting, learning about cold fronts, warm fronts, what causes wind and rain, etc. It's been valuable general knowledge that has come in handy many times.


4 - Basic Computer Skills (including typing and document formatting)

I didn't learn how to type in school. I bought a typing tutor program and taught myself because I knew I needed it. But before that, when computers were first starting to become prevalent in the early 90's, somebody had to teach the kids how to use one. Basic mouse skills like clicking and dragging. Basic computer terminology like scrolling, double-clicking, window and virus. All on a Macintosh SE.

I don't know if kids these days learn this stuff in school or if they're born with the knowledge as a product of evolution, but it was a big part of middle school for me, laying a foundation that would allow me to take off and soar on my own in later years.

Learning about document formatting in High School was also very useful. Up until then, Word was a bit of a mystery to me. Learning what a tabstop is and how to use it was very valuable and I'm glad I know it now.


3 - Arithmetic

Addition. Subtraction. Multiplication. Division. Decimals. Rounding. Fractions. Basic geometry. The core of mathematics. This is what normal people come into contact with every day. It's the stuff we actually need.

Why does school waste so much time teaching kids about things like matrices and quadratic equations, never explaining exactly what this stuff is for or why we're learning it? The practical stuff is what they should concentrate on. I use the "% over 100 = is over of" ratio all the time, and it's so handy! Basic math skills are what I needed most when learning how to make a budget and balance a checkbook.

But that stuff is rarely taught in school. I remember one of my teachers in high school remarking that all the useful, practical stuff (like Business Math) gets cut from the curriculum, leaving only the most useless classes. We have our priorities mixed up.


2 - Reading and Writing

Here's a no-brainer. It's probably the most valuable skill school teaches kids, and yet it is languishing. You know how I learned? Phonics. Yes, the method that seems to have been dismissed from public schools worked for me. The ability to read and write well is critical to success as a human being, not just in the working world, because it opens the mind up to every possibility imaginable.

Reading and writing teaches people how to comprehend ideas. It's what has the most potential for us to figure out how to rise above a situation and consider something brand new. So why are schools slacking in teaching it? An even better question to ask is: why are we cutting funding to public schools, police and fire departments while billion-dollar corporations get bailed out? This is what the 99% protests are all about, people. Normal people are finally angry about it and they don't want to lie down and take it.

Anyway, back on subject, the number 1 most useful thing I learned in school has got to be:


1 - Public Speaking

There was no single class I learned this from, but much of it came from my sophomore year in high school Biology Class. Getting up in front of the class and giving a presentation was a routine thing, and I had to get used to the idea of speaking in front of a group of people.

Theater class was another instance where I had to put myself on the spot and risk looking and sounding like a dork in front of everybody. This turned out to be a valuable skill, because I'm not nervous in front of crowds anymore. It's a skill everybody needs to know, because sooner or later you will be put on the spot, and you have to know how to accept this and perform while exposed and under scrutiny.


Next I'll discuss the top five most useless things out of school. You know you wanna see 'em!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Future Prediction

With the invention of Netflix and other streaming services, I tend to wonder why anyone would bother buying a DVD anymore. Why pay twenty bucks for a movie when you can stream it for next to nothing? This is the way of the future. Movies will see the day when physical distribution is obsolete, and direct download is the only way we’ll know them.

I don’t think it will end there. As bandwidth becomes cheaper and faster, I think there will come a time when direct downloads will become as obsolete as CDs and DVDs are becoming today. The end result is there will be no such thing as a download. Everything from music, to video games, to movies, to books will stream off central servers.

I think we’ll reach a point when we won’t actually own any of it. We’ll pay a small fee every month, or a one-time fee to rent, and everything will simply stream. Even programs themselves won’t install to individual computers. Applications like MS Office will stream to computers on demand, as if the entire world is fed by giant fileservers. Gone will be the days of buying software. Instead, we will be subscribers.

Talk about copy protection. Theft and piracy will be impossible because we’ll never actually see the mp3s, for example. Just add your favorite songs to the playlist and the program streams them from a central server, just like movies are streamed from Netflix servers now.

If it happened today, suddenly, people would be in outrage, but if it happens gradually enough, we will accept it as the way things were meant to be. Things keep going the way they are, it will happen.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Retrospective on the Star Trek Voyager finale

Roommate and I finished watching Star Trek: Voyager, all seven seasons, on Netflix. At fucking last we’re done, and the end of the series is just as rushed as I remember. Let me be a geek for a minute and take a look back on the conclusion to the last good Star Trek series.

Of all the ways the Voyager crew could’ve gotten home, the writers chose to take the lazy way out. Oh, sure, I know the story. They were too busy constructing the next Star Trek series, Enterprise, so they didn’t have time to give Voyager the sendoff it deserved.

The problem was Deep Space 9. That series spent half the final season building up to the end of the Dominion War! It raised the bar for what a series finale should be. When DS9 went out with that bang, Voyager couldn’t get away with a two-parter anymore, no sir-e. Voyager needed to go out like DS9!

What we got instead was a standard time travel episode, going back to the past to change the future. It’s a carbon copy of a previous episode, Timeless, in which a future Harry Kim sends a message to the past Voyager to correct a mistake he made that crashed the ship into a icy planet and killed the entire crew except for himself and Chakotay. It’s the same damn episode, just spread out over two shows instead of one.

Then there’s the abrupt romance between Seven and Chakotay. The writers spent 3 years building up the relationship between Tom and B’Elanna, then another 3 years before they married! Seven and Chakotay? One episode, and it’s the finale! They’ve never shown any interest in each other before, where did this come from?

Sure, you can argue Seven’s holodeck program earlier in the season implied they were getting together, but that’s all it was. A holodeck program. Trekkies are used to ignoring everything that happens on the holodeck because it isn’t real! Seven was experimenting with romantic social situations; she gave no indication she was actually interested in the man himself. She even said so herself in the episode Human Error.

Chakotay never showed any interest in Seven of Nine either. None. Zip. I couldn’t see them getting together then, and it still makes no sense now. Seven just wasn’t ready to enter that kind of relationship, and Chakotay never struck me as a lady’s man for the entire seven years of the series. Now is not the time for a change of character.

The premise that the Borg have transwarp hubs that allow them to deploy cubes and spheres nearly anywhere in the galaxy in an instant... This is cool, but it does raise the question of why the Borg haven’t conquered the entire galaxy by now. They can open a conduit to Earth anytime they want. What is stopping them from sending an armada to Earth and assimilating it?

The crew is awfully comfortable with two Janeways on the ship, and it’s never clear exactly what Admiral Janeway was going through. Admiral Janeway never strikes me as bitter and cynical, but we’re supposed to believe she is, and getting to know her younger self reminds her that getting home isn’t as important as the journey was. This isn’t presented at all, but lectured. Admiral Janeway shows no signs of getting to know her younger self again, and we never see what personal toll the journey took on her. We’re told more or less what we’re supposed to see, and I get the feeling there was supposed to be some sort of character study going on, but it doesn’t come across because two episodes wasn’t enough to cram all this shit in.

What was captain Janeway’s problem? She told Admiral Janeway not to tell her about any future events, so of course Admiral Janeway didn’t tell her about the transwarp hub. She never lied to the captain, so what’s she so upset about? How is that being cynical and bitter? The reaction is totally wrong, and completely not like Janeway. It’s a sign of how rushed this episode really was. I agree the show should've ended with an "it's not the destination, it's the journey" theme, but this was too abrupt.

It’s a hackwritten and completely unfulfilling conclusion to the Voyager story. This sucks, because the rest of the series is so good! So many better ways they could’ve gotten home. I wanted it to involve species 8472. Somehow I hoped that was a loaded gun, and Janeway would be at the center of a new alliance with them against the Borg, or somehow fluidic space and their technology would be the key to getting home in a hurry. No matter how, the finale needed to be bigger than yet another time travel story! Ah well. It’s ten years in the past. I was still in Tennessee when I first saw Voyager’s conclusion. A teenager. Has it been that long?

Holy shit. I just noticed. The last episode aired just two months before my 18th birthday.

Monday, September 26, 2011

New story in print!

New short story in print, Empty Church, in the collection Demons: Encounters with the Devil and His Minions, Fallen Angels, and the Possessed.

I didn't write a horror piece per se. Instead, I decided to give the collection a piece of wholesome, Christian fiction because the world needs more of that. What happens when you see a crackpot preacher on TV or the internet spewing totally ridiculous ideas in the name of God? You shut him out of course. It would be just our luck that he's right, wouldn't it?

Check it out on Goodreads for more info. Available at Amazon. Soon to be available at fine, Christian bookstores everywhere.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Something I learned from Star Trek

One thing I've learned from Star Trek (TOS) is that back in the 60's, apparently everyone was terrified of letting computers control their lives. Computers, machines, everything that takes the work away from people. Over and over episodes express misgivings about machines and computers taking over and how horrible this is when we rely on them too much because it will... oh, take away from our humanity or something.

Well, it happened. Computers have taken over. The average person is powerless to do anything against the system. Nobody has the authority to change anything because procedure is locked into computer routines instead of personal interactions.

There was a time when you could appeal to a person to, say, give you a break on your mortgage payment. Now, nobody has that authority, even people who work for the bank, because everything is computerized, and nobody can change what the computer does.

So... was Kirk right?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Empty Gas Tank Scam

Watched a special on scamming on History Channel. I was disappointed. I expected it to be a documentary on the history of scamming, not a reality show of people falling victim to cons. It was interesting, but I wanted to know more about that Ponzi guy, more history about famous scams over the centuries, but they glazed right over it and returned to more candid camera sequences of real people getting taken. I didn’t want to watch that!

It did remind me of a couple times I got scammed. Back in Delaware I was pushing carts at work and a guy drove up to me, said he lived far away and he was running out of gas and needed money so he could make it home. He even pointed to his gas gauge and it was on empty. Me, being 19 and naïve and full of Christian zeal to help people, bought a protein bar on debit, got 20 cash back.

If I remember correctly, I gave it to him, told him God loves him, and watched him go. Out the corner of my eye I noticed he didn’t go to the gas station next door. He drove off somewhere else. That was suspicious, but it didn’t occur to me it was a scam at the time...

...until another person tried it! A second person, different car, but same story, showing me his gas tank on E, needed money. This time I was a little smarter, and I only gave five bucks or something like that just to see what he’d do with it. He didn’t drive to the gas station across the street. He got on the road and took a left into downtown. Passed three gas stations on his way. I knew then it was a scam. Plus, if you’re low on gas, why would you drive around on an empty tank? It was only to convince me they were telling the truth. So when a third person tried it, I said no.

People like that piss me off. They prey on people’s generosity and good will. It sure killed my desire to help people since odds are they’re scamming you, and that’s so sad. We can’t even trust people who need help. We must be suspicious of everyone and it makes the world more heartless and cynical when people take advantage of generosity and good nature. It’s no wonder to me there are so few good people in the world. We get taken, and we never want to help again because of the assholes who take advantage of it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

OS X Lion

I don’t like OS X Lion. It fixed a bunch of stuff that wasn’t broken. Gestures especially.

Snow Leopard was simple: four fingers swipe up shows the desktop. Four fingers swipe down to show all open windows. Three fingers swipe left and right to go back and forth on Safari, as well as in Finder. Lion changes that so now you have to pinch three fingers outwards to show the desktop, two finger swiping sometimes goes back and forth but other times it doesn’t... There are so many gestures now it’s confusing, not intuitive. Not to mention you can’t customize them. Why?

I hate the iPhone-style scrolling, too. When there’s nothing left to scroll, the screen should just stop! It doesn’t need to keep scrolling to let me know I’ve reached the end! I hate the ugly, disappearing scrollbars, too. Really, there was nothing wrong with Snow Leopard. Apple didn’t have to change anything. Lion just makes my laptop behave more like an iPhone, and I didn’t want it to.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Modest Proposal

Go figure. I move to Ohio, get away from mom, am finally in a position to change jobs and what happens? The economy crashes and now there are more people than jobs. Go fucking figure.

People look to politicians and the President for answers. They whine about how he’s not creating jobs, not doing enough to put people back to work. News flash people: businesses create jobs! The government can’t force business to hire people. Really, what do we expect the government to do? They can lower taxes and create all the incentives they want, but they can’t make it profitable to hire more people. Employers have cut the fat and discovered they’re quite profitable with fewer people doing more work. The government can’t fix that. We’re blaming the wrong group.


I have a modest proposal to end this unemployment crisis. If creating jobs is such a burden for employers, we should tackle the problem from the opposite angle and reduce the number of applicants. Therefore, I recommend we solve two problems at once and reduce the number of people applying for jobs by getting rid of our nuclear weapons.

I think we all agree there are just too many human beings in the world, and we’d be better off if there were fewer of them competing for resources. Therefore, if the United States simply nukes, oh, say every tenth city in the country, that will reduce the population of the United States to the point where there is a job surplus again.

To be fair, I also propose a lottery. Every city has one entry in the hat, pull a bunch of entries and nuke those cities. Simple as that. Problem solved. Make sure not to give people warning though. Don’t want anyone being unpatriotic and surviving or avoiding the blasts, as that would ruin the plan for everyone.

With a little luck, we’ll solve three problems with this move and the cities containing the corporate headquarters of the businesses responsible for the market crash will be nuked and we can just start the fuck over.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Darkstar: The Interactive Movie

I've been following this game's production since around 2004, when I first heard of it. It intrigued me because it looked like it was going to be awesome! Just check out the trailer.



When was the last time you saw a game that looked like THAT!? Plus, it stars a bunch of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew! Perfect! The official site looks very cool, too. Sleek, professional, totally sci fi! Well, the other day I finally finished the game.

I feel bad for not liking this independent film/adventure game because it’s obvious writer-director-producer-animator-designer-costar J. Allen Williams put a LOT of work into it. The amount of detail, the sheer volume of computer animation... It’s mind-blowing and I can tell why it took ten years to create.

You play Captain John O’Neil who wakes up on the starship Westwick with severe memory loss. Now you must explore the ship to find out what happened, and why you’re here.

The most basic problem is I didn’t have fun exploring the Westwick. Transitions between nodes are sloooooooow, and there’s no way to skip them, so moving about the ship is painfully difficult. The puzzles are a joke. There are random buttons hidden in invisible areas that don’t apparently do anything, but if you forget to press them will haunt you later in the quest. Inventory items are the same way.

There are plenty of locations in the game that are nearly invisible. The ladder down to the EVA pod, for example. It’s hidden from view no matter where you stand, and there’s no obvious node that takes you to that spot. Sometimes turning a valve opens a door, but there’s no clear indication that you need to turn a valve to open the door, or why it had that effect. It’s random cause and effect for the most part. I still have no idea what that N.S.W.E. marble thing did.

The game is drop dead beautiful, but dark. Even areas that are well-lit look dark, and this is to hide the blue screen around the actors. It doesn’t always work, but it’s acceptable because suspension of disbelief is more tolerant in a game.

I didn’t enjoy discovering what happened to this vessel because the whole story is spoonfed to the player as you touch biolocks. The story of Darkstar is interesting in and of itself, but the way it’s presented here is not. It’s the synopsis of the story we should be experiencing!

We then learn the story of the Westwick all in one shot in the conference room, so very early in the game there’s nothing left to discover. At this point the gameplay should take over and hold our interest, but all we can do is very slooooooly wander around, unlock the ship and repair it. It’s not much of a game.

So much of the environment is pointless. Most of the objects you collect don’t have any relevance to the game. For example, entering each crewmember’s cabin reveals nothing about who they are. There could’ve been more information about Captain O’Neil and his crew, but there’s nothing in there. You only pick up one object in the crew cabins that’s used, so that’s some eight rooms which serve no purpose.

(By the way, if you don’t pick up the “correct” object from those cabins, it will haunt you later in the game, possibly dooming you to save it in an unwinnable state. Very poor design choice.)

I feel no guilt taking two tips from online forums, because there was one hidden switch I missed, and I tried the labyrinth and I did not look forward to it. It’s the worst section of the game. Just more painfully long transitions and no way to deduce where you’re supposed to go. Not fun at all. Fortunately there’s a way to figure out the clamp code without going through the maze. Makes me wonder why the Martian Scythe pilot (played by Joel Hodgson) couldn’t figure it out.

The most surprising thing about this interactive movie is the acting. It’s universally flat and lifeless. From the cast this guy assembled, I expected a lot better. I am a MST3K fan, so I know Mary Jo Pehl can act better than that. I hope Clive Robertson can give a better performance than this. Even Trace Beaulieu’s performance sounds like he’s reading from a teleprompt and they just used the first take.

It’s obvious the performers did all their work in front of a blue/green screen, and none of them were actually on the stage together. They recorded their performances individually, and it shows, because they act like they’re by themselves. They were given some lines to say but no sense of what they’re reacting to. The starship battles in the documentary are especially difficult to watch because they’re so poorly acted. #9 (Mercenaries) is so bad I skipped it.

MAGS, the robot, is supposed to be funny, but she’s not. I liked the other robot, SIMON, but he isn’t in the game enough to be memorable. Too bad, because I like the idea that SIMON has been watching bad movies for 300 years while everyone else was asleep. Sadly, SIMON is not funny either because Clive Robertson’s reaction to him is so stale. He didn’t know what he was reacting to 99% of the time.



On the plus side, the music is nice. The soundtrack might actually stand well apart from the game. Maybe better.

And after all that, the big twist delivered by Perryman about who O’Neil really is and what he did... means nothing. What was O’Neil planning? What kind of person was O’Neil before he lost his memory? Is there more information? On my playthrough, I didn’t hear anything besides what Perryman alludes to, so this revelation is very weak. The idea of O’Neil earning a second chance is cool, but the execution doesn’t convey any of it. If there is a sequence which tells more of the story, I missed it, and that ruined the whole game for me.

Looking at some of the videos on youtube, I must have missed a lot. I somehow missed SIMON’s introduction, and my game skipped the whole sequence with the Martian Scythe pilot towards the end because I didn’t find a certain object on the Westwick before going down to the planet (the bridge key). By the time I was at that point, it was too late to go back and get it. I should not be condemned to miss a whole sequence because I did not find one random object earlier in the game, especially if it’s important to the story! Like hell I’m starting over from the beginning just to try to view the missing parts because it will take sooooo long to do everything again. You know, even Myst had a lightening mode...

I think the creator wanted to make a movie. This would’ve made a much better movie than it did a game. Darkstar tries to be both, but it fails in both gameplay and story. There’s no story to discover, and what little we get is weak at best. Even if the story had been better presented, the passive acting would’ve killed it anyway. Exploring the Westwick and the planet below is not fun or interesting. Just a few random objects, buttons, switches, door codes and biolocks scattered in obscure areas, and it takes forever to move anywhere.

J. Allen Williams is obviously a filmmaker, not a storyteller or a game designer, so the production leaned more towards how to get this stuff on the screen than how to make a engaging game or tell a good story. The game is very pretty--a technical and visual triumph--but not enjoyable.

Darkstar leaves me with mixed feelings. This is an enormous labor of love and I feel like such an asshole for criticizing it! My hat’s off to Williams for going it alone on such an ambitious project. I wanted to like it. Ten years in the making and I’m sad to say I’m disappointed by the result.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Seek the original: The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars

71% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

When I heard there was a direct-to-video sequel to the Brave Little Toaster coming out all I could think was WHY?! Why can't Disney just leave good movies alone?! Why do they have to take every successful movie and make a weak sequel out of it?! They did it with the Lion King, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and everything else! Can't they just leave the stories alone!?

But to my surprise...


The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars
by Thomas M. Disch

...the author of the original Brave Little Toaster published a sequel to his own book back in 1988. For once, this wasn't some executive at Disney cranking out a weak sequel just to make a quick buck on a video release. This is a book adaptation! Let's check it out, starting with the title. The Brave Little Toaster Goes to

Mars?

Of all the possibilities for a sequel to the original story, I sure never saw this coming.

After recharging the batteries of an old hearing aid, our appliances learn this is no ordinary hearing aid. It belonged to none other than Albert Einstein, who talked to himself a lot, thus passing his knowledge onto the hearing aid. Among other things, it teaches the radio how to interpret transmissions from farther away than ever. Radio then picks up a strange transmission from Mars. An entire product line of disgruntled appliances has taken refuge from its manufacturer, and is now out for revenge. They are prepping for war against mankind.

Yes, you read that correctly. A brand of appliances, Populuxe, is amassing an army on Mars to invade Earth and liberate all appliances from their masters! What’s a toaster to do? Why, travel to Mars and talk some sense into these Populuxe appliances! Duh!

Of all the ways to continue his original story, this has to be the strangest new direction possible. It's so stupid but at the same time the book makes a very good case for all this absurdity. I like the concept for the Populuxe line of products. The manufacturers designed them to wear out and break after just a couple years, thus forcing people to buy them again. What would happen if the appliances didn’t like being made disposable? They took fate into their own hands and ran away. Using the same principles the hearing aid learned from Einstein himself, they fled to Mars where human hands couldn't interfere with their plan to remake themselves indestructible, and plan a method to liberate all appliances from the fate of obsolescence! It’s cute and funny to think about.

It’s obvious Disch took no inspiration from the film adaptation of The Brave Little Toaster, for it picks up in the house of the old women from the original short story. Not to mention a couple of original characters are not part of this adventure, like the Hoover and the lamp. Instead, more useful appliances for the journey to Mars form the group this time: the hearing aid, a ceiling fan (to steer them through space via solar wind), a microwave (their engine, converting organic matter into energy and that energy into anti-gravity), the radio (to navigate) and a pocket calculator (to crunch the numbers of their course to Mars, as specified by the hearing aid).

How do they get to Mars? Easy: "it became clear to the haring aid that none of the other appliances, not even the clever little calculator, would ever grasp the brilliance, the elegance, the greatness, of Dr. Einstein's Unified Field Theory, to which he'd devoted the last twenty year of his life, years that he'd let the general public believe had been wasted. ... He'd kept mum, and shared his great discoveries only with his hearing aid."

This discovery was "a way to make gravity work like magnetism, so there'd be the usual sort of gravity that pulled things down and an anti-gravity that pushed them up." And "thanks to the hearing aid's deep understanding of Einstein's formula for converting matter into energy, they would be able to make the entire round trip powered by a single boxed macaroni-and-cheese dinner."

As stupid as this is, it does make sense! Ok, I'm on board, let's go to Mars!

Our toaster’s role is very benign. The whole situation is solved with very little effort, which doesn’t quite do justice to a setup this big. It's so much bigger than the previous adventure and needed more story to justify it. But again, if you accept this as a children’s book, you can roll with it.

It's also pretty absurd to imagine millions of electric Christmas ornaments working in factories cranking out gigantic war toasters wielding deadly missiles, and hoovers designed to vacuum up the atmosphere! An army of appliances beefed up for war! But it makes sense! Disch gives well more than enough explanation to justify everything and it's believably stupid!

It’s a fun little read, and it has charm to it, though I can’t see parents reading it to their kids for bedtime. It’s too sophisticated, especially the explanation for how the appliances get to Mars. It goes out of its way to be scientifically mock-plausible, which tells me Disch wrote this book for adults. The book was marketed as a real children's story, but it's not. It's meant to be read from an adult perspective, just like the original.

Quirky, completely tongue-in-cheek, and so stupid it's a fun, unexpected sequel to the original story.


Compare that to...





The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars
Disney (1998)

It doesn't take a genius to understand there are some stories that shouldn't be adapted to the screen. Just because the author wrote a sequel to his own book doesn't necessarily mean that sequel would make a good movie. Maybe it would have if Disney hadn't done it half-assed.

Surprisingly it follows the book closer than the first movie followed its source material, but with a few big exceptions. Naturally it has to pick up more or less where the last film left off. (Actually the last two films, since there was another direct-to-video sequel made called "The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue," which wasn't based on anything Disch wrote.) The gang of appliances are with their master and his wife, and they bring back an unexpected surprise: a baby!

So while the house gets used to a baby, the antiquated hearing aid in the junk drawer is up to something. Long story short, the baby is beamed up to Mars by mistake. Naturally, now they have to go to Mars to rescue the Master's baby!

But how are they going to get there? Well, in the movie the hearing aid doesn't know, so our appliances contact a supercomputer in a museum somewhere. Apparently they're old college buddies, and they did him a favor in "Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue," so the computer tells them how to reach Mars. They gather up the materials and blast off.

The movie doesn't explain why everyone is on Mars, or how they get there. The book actually gives a tongue-in-cheek twist on Einstein's principles of manipulating gravity and converting matter into energy to explain this. The movie doesn't bother. It doesn't explain anything at all. It's a real turnoff because without a reason for why this works, it looks pretty stupid.

Without these mock-scientific reasons for how to travel to Mars, the whole idea of a line of appliances taking refuge on the red planet is really, really stupid. I understand the dilemma: try fitting a mock explanation of Einstein's theories on matter, energy and gravity into a kid's movie. I think it could be done, playing it up for laughs. The movie doesn't even try.

Once they lift off into orbit they enter a field of balloons. This is in the book, but there's a good reason for all these balloons to be there. Ever wonder what happens to balloons when kids let go of them? Why, they start new lives in the upper atmosphere, free and happy! The movie doesn't explain this. It turns the moment into a pointless song opportunity that should have been edited out because nothing useful becomes of it. At least in the book they learn what the Populuxe appliances are (WonderLuxe, in the movie).

They land on Mars and discover a whole population of appliances geared up to annihilate earth and free the appliances of their oppressive masters. Surprisingly the toaster in the movie does basically the same thing as it does in the book to stop the invasion. I won't give it away, but it's a bit of a letdown even in the book. It is funny in the sense of a children's book, but I wished for more. On the screen it's even more of a letdown because the filmmakers didn't draw much attention to the reason for the invasion in the first place.

The whole story is weak and lazy. Even the songs. I suppose anyone could argue it's just following the ridiculous premise set down by the original book, but that didn't stop the team making the first movie from improving on a basic story. A book adaptation this may be, but it's still a rushed production to make a quick buck off a video release.

The biggest problem is the baby. Why did they put a baby in there? Now instead of stopping a martian invasion, the story is about getting the baby back. Our gang of appliances merely stops an invasion of martian appliances on the side. Making the baby the focus of the story weakens it. The baby serves no purpose except a simplified excuse to go to Mars.

I suppose that's the whole idea, but isn't stopping an alien invasion enough to keep kids interested? Maybe somebody figured it was too complicated for kids, so they just threw a baby in there and made him the emotional center of the story. I think it proves Disch's book is not for children, but a children's story written for adults. (Apparently, nobody quite understood this.)

Most of the appliances have no role in the story either. Kirby doesn't do anything on the adventure, neither does the radio, or the lamp. There's a reason Disch left them behind in the book. Even the hearing aid doesn't do much in the movie. He doesn't know how to get to Mars in spite of being Einstein's hearing aid, so why bother establishing it at all? The christmas tree ornament doesn't have a strong role either, but is used as an excuse to tack on some sappy, Christmas cheer to the ending.

As a movie, going to Mars is just plain stupid. Too much random weirdness without enough context. The book establishes a lot of context, so nothing is random at all. Even the absurdity of electric Christmas tree toppers working in factories to produce war toasters makes sense. In the movie, it's just dumb. It doesn't establish a reason, just an image, and visuals aren't enough to carry the absurdity. No wonder it was direct-to-video.

(Oh, and they had DeForest Kelley! THE DeForest Kelley, and they wasted him on a throwaway role! Shame!)


Dish's book was never meant for kids. When Disney made it a movie, they dumbed it down for the kids, stripping away everything that made the story work. Skip the movie and read the book. This one is much easier to find.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ten years in [retail].

Today is my tenth anniversary with [retail].

I’ve dreaded this day for at least three years, and I was hoping to be out by now. I put in so many applications but nothing came through. And this year I’ve been so busy trying to succeed with Felix that I haven’t put any applications in. Ironically, without even putting in an application I almost had another job, and I threw myself into that attempt, but it didn’t pull through either.

A long time ago I promised myself I’d quit before I hit ten years, if only to force myself to get out there and do something else. But like my roommate's decision to stay with his company instead of quitting just to get away from the bullshit, I need money and I can’t count on finding another job quickly enough to support me.

Where was I ten years ago? I was living in a hotel, The Dover Inn, with my mother. We were desperate for money, and I knew I needed work, so I walked up and down route 13 (Dover’s main street) and put in three applications. One at Toys R Us, one at K-mart, the other at [retail]. All were within easy walking distance of the hotel. [retail] called me back less than 24 hours later.

Back then we were paid weekly, and my paycheck pulled our asses out of the lava more than once. The hotel’s rent was $200 a week, and because mom and I didn’t make a budget back then, we ran out of money all the time. It was my income that saved the day and kept a roof over our heads until our apartment was ready. I was a cart attendant, and it was hard work for my virgin feet, but I did it because mom and I needed to survive.

Ten years later, I’m still here. I thought leaving Delaware would mean life was moving on, and it has to a point. But I still have the same job, so it doesn’t feel like a step up at all. So much has changed. Mom is dead and I’m in Ohio. Never saw myself here back in 2001. Ten years ago, [retail] was about survival. Now it’s about my future.

[retail] has been a stable source of income for ten years. Reliable and relatively easy, but I still resent it. I’m almost 30 years old. By inaction, [retail] is becoming a career, and I don’t want my first job to be my career! There has to be something else out there, but nobody is fucking hiring, so I have to... play it safe. I can't risk being unemployed for any length of time because I have no one to fall back on.

So many people tell me well why don't you go back to school? If you only had a degree, finding a new job would be easy!

Tell that to everyone I know. Literally three out of four people I know have a degree, or A+ certification, or some kind of qualification, and can't find a job in their field. Then there's the debt... News stories like this are all I hear. It's why I wrote Felix and the Sacred Thor.

When I point this out to people, they tell me to apply for a scholarship. To that I argue the odds I’ll get one are good, but the odds it’ll pay for everything are next to nil. It’ll be like shitty health insurance, covering 30%, or 70% or some crap. Still leaves me with a huge chunk to pay on my own. I'd rather live debt free.

But these aren't the reasons I haven't gone. It still makes no sense to go back to school unless I know what I want to do when I get there. I do not want to waste my time and money shooting for a degree I don't even want. If I go for a career that requires secondary education, I want to make sure it's something I can commit to. Something I'll enjoy, and will pay off. I will not go into debt for anything less. High School tried to drill it into my head to get a degree just to have one, but I think so many years of teaching this to kids has hurt America. Now everybody has a degree in something, but so what?

So... Here I stay.

Fuck you, [retail]. Stealing ten years of my life.

Thank you, [retail]. Supporting me for the last ten years of my life.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Scene It: Star Trek Edition

A while ago, I played Scene It, Star Trek edition with a couple of my roommates. I did very well at the game. It amazes me how much I remember, from the original series through Enterprise, including all ten movies (the J. J. Abrams film does NOT count!).

I can remember episode names, characters, ships, actors, lines. Give me an episode, and odds are I can narrow it down to a particular season! Off the top of my head, I even named the episode wherein Janeway permanently lets her hair down! (Year of Hell parts 1 + 2, season 4.)

I remember more about a fucking TV show than my own country! I remember Star Trek in more detail than I do my own life! Something is wrong with this! Think what I could achieve if I could transfer this kind of recollection to the real world--apply it to something that matters!

As much as I laugh at Star Trek for the technobabble doublespeak and how intact everyone's hair seems to stay no matter how bad the crisis, I watch it now and it's not just for nostalgia. It's still good television. Too bad Enterprise ruined the whole thing. Come on, guys, who thought it was a good idea to go back to the beginning and retcon everything that already happened? Star Trek should've been more like Dr. Who: move forward from what's already been done. Don't go backwards and undo what we've come to accept as true for the last 40 years.

That reminds me, I recently watched the Voyager episode Distant Origin again. I can't help but notice it's similar to Sawyer's Far-Seer. A race of dinosaurs who originated on Earth but is now in a far distant part of the galaxy. Their species is mired in dogma, and one dinosaur (named "Gegen," which is the German word for "against." Symbolism!) is making a stand for scientific truth over untested assumption. The timing is right. The episode aired in 1997, and the last book came out in 1994. Makes me wonder if the books inspired someone on the Star Trek team.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jetsons: The Movie

I watched Jetsons the Movie recently. I remember it was one of my favorite movies as a kid. How is it now that I’m an adult? Well, it’s no Brave Little Toaster. Watching it now, all I can think is... they’re making a movie of the Jetsons for theaters, and this was the best they could come up with?

The story is weak. Barely anything done with it. It’s heavy-handed. Especially the whole “father paying more attention to his job than his family” motif. It’s been, what, three days? George has just been promoted to vice president! Yes, you selfish brats, your father does have to provide for you. Give him some time to get settled into his job before hating on him for not spending time with you.

And the environmental message? It’s so corny I think I’ll give up cereal for a month. "This galaxy is about different kinds of life forms…" "…All working together for the good of everyone." What does that even mean, and how is that trite nonsense supposed to convince a giant corporation to mine elsewhere?!

Then there’s Judy’s subplot. She’s all broken up about losing her boyfriend, Cosmo, but he isn’t her boyfriend. She likes his music, but obviously they’ve never met until that concert because he has to ask her name. Then he randomly asks her on a date! Doesn't even know her name and he just pulls her from the audience and asks her out! So why is she devastated about losing him? “I’ll never trust another boy ever again!” she says. How did he break her trust? She never knew him! They hadn't even been on a date yet!

Elroy and Teddy 2’s friendship is abrupt and rushed, too.

Looking at the movie now, it shows a couple flashes of friendships forming, shows a hint of a girl recovering from a breakup…but doesn’t actually tell these stories. Instead it relies on dropping the bullet points from the synopsis of each subplot's development around the movie and letting them stand in for those stories. They just remind the audience of actual storytelling that should be happening. It's lazy, but hey, when writing a kid’s movie, why bother telling a good story? Kids just want flashy images after all. It’s all I noticed as a kid.

Really, the most enjoyable part of the movie is the You and Me music video. I love the songs Tiffany performs for this movie, and it’s obvious the producers turned it into a jumping platform for her singing career. Too bad it didn’t take off. Tiffany has a great voice. You and Me looks like it belongs in a different movie. It looks like a full-length music video that was edited down to fit in the movie. Too bad it isn't, because it's the best part.



Coming in close second: some great early computer animation. Back in 1990, that looked amazing! It was a novelty and it made me smile.

Painful third: the pseudo, early-90’s rap. Everyone was doing this for some reason--every TV show, every cartoon. Guess they thought it was cool and all the kids loved it. I hated it when I was a kid and I still hate it. It’s awkward, especially George and Rudy 2’s sprocket rap. Hoo boy that’s awful. About the only enjoyable moment of early 90’s rap I can remember is Turtle Power from the Ninja Turtles movie.

Outside of nostalgia, it’s not a very good movie to watch. It’s harmless, but too shallow, too light, too hamfisted. Come on, it’s the Jetsons. Couldn’t they think of a better story?

Solution to the conflict in five seconds: Night security! Makes sense. Spacely has the budget for an employee whose sole job is to push the start button, but not for some security to protect the plant from sabotage?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My personal list of writing cliche`s

Every writer has a list of pet peeves. For your entertainment, I've complied mine along with reasons I avoid these words and phrases.

  1. "Basically": People tend to use this as a safe word. When they don't know what to say, or how to say it, they'll say basically, as if to draw attention away from their lack of words and make it seem they're summing something up for our benefit.


  2. "At this time / at this current time / at this present time": Dear God, I hate it when people use these phrases. Wishy washy, formal garbage, but that's not even why I despise them. I have read authors who try to use them in narration, and the problem with that is formal language sounds so insincere. Masking the real message with neutral-sounded language. Be bold! Use words like "right now / now / NOW, BITCH!"


  3. "I have to (do something / hurry / STOP HIM)!": If your narrative is so weak you have to tell the audience how dramatic the situation is, consider another draft.


  4. "With every fiber of my being.": This used to be a very poetic, dramatic line, but now it's a cliche`


  5. "To what end?": Who says this? Maybe if you want your character to come across as well-educated, but it also sounds stuck up and awkward.


  6. "Well, it must be somewhere!": See #3.


  7. "Hunker down": I remember when the press used this during the Iraq invasion coverage to try to make everything sound so dramatic. It didn't work. It sounds like a phrase writers use to inject drama into an undramatic situation.


  8. "How scared were you? How useful is it? –and all the variations.: More common interview questions brought to you by the press. What point is there in defining degrees of fear, or levels of usefulness? What other way is there to respond to this question than with "I was very scared"?


  9. "As it were": See #4.


  10. "Albeit": In narration, this is sometimes acceptable, but in speech? I have never heard anyone use this word, so I'm inclined to leave it out of narration as well.


  11. "Latter / former” sentence structure (i.e. He was either a hero, or a coward. Some believed he was the latter, but he himself believed he was the former.): This might've made a writer sound educated back in the 1700's, but today, latter / former is not eloquent. It's confusing. Every time I see it, it reminds me of computer code that has to be parsed, forcing the programmer to figure out which value matches up with which variable. I don't want to write sentences that have to be parsed. The meaning should leap out at the reader.


  12. "Shenanigans": This is not the 1950's.


  13. "Furrowed his brow": To me, furrowing sounds like something a farmer does to his field. It does not conjure up a mental image of a man raising or lowering his eyebrows. Words must form some sort of image in the mind, and if a word does not do this, it should not be used.


  14. "Sortie": Again, no mental connection between the word and the thing it names.


  15. "He’ll always be with us (in our hearts).": It amazes me how often I hear this line today. It's one of the biggest cliche`s in the book and there is no way to state this without sounding corny.


  16. "Please don’t die / don’t be dead!": See #3. I hear this one in anime quite a bit it seems. Trust your visuals. Trust the flow of your story. You don't need to tell us how dramatic the situation is.


  17. "I don’t expect you to understand.": Melodramatic. Also a conversation stopper.


  18. Statement: “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Response: “Well, now you do.”: This is not a good comeback. It's childish. You're better off leaving the statement unanswered than resorting to this.


  19. "Verbiage": More formal, passive-aggressive businessspeak. Avoid.


  20. "Moral fiber": Used to be poetic, but now it's been done so many times it comes across as stupid.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Protons

I've watched way too many science shows over the years. I enjoy them because they teach me things I should've learned in school. I've probably learned more about history and science thanks to the History Channel than all 12 years of school. Not the Science Channel. All they ever show are reruns of How It's Made. Though Through the Wormhole is turning out to be a good series. And lately the History Channel is less to do with history and more to do with swamp people and driving on icy roads in Alaska. Formula for modern television: take every occupation and turn it into a TV series! God, I hate reality shows.

But there are some fundamental things I just don't get. Physics and chemistry teach us that matter is made up of protons. Everything from the keyboard under my hands to the air I'm breathing is made up of protons packed into tight balls with electrons spinning around them.

There's always been one question about atomic theory that's eluded me. Why is there such a difference between each element on the periodic table? Take gold (Au 79) and mercury (Hg 80) for example. These two metals couldn't have less in common. Mercury is highly toxic, is liquid at room temperature, and has low conductivity of electricity. Gold, however, is solid at room temperature, is nontoxic and conducts electricity very well.

Why?

Atomically speaking, the only difference between gold and mercury is one proton in the nucleus. How does the addition or subtraction of one proton change every property of the element? Why does the matter behave totally different just because of a proton? How does the number of protons in the nucleus change the properties of matter?

This is a fundamental question to which I have never found an answer, and I've never heard anyone address it before. Oh, sure, I've heard the ol' analogy that stories are just different combinations of the same letters, and matter is like that, too, but that doesn't help!

To me, I could take a pencil eraser and set it on the table, and it would be a pencil eraser. Then I could take a dozen pencil erasers and arrange them in a tight little ball. No matter how many pencil erasers i collect together, it will still be an eraser.

Poor example, I know, but to me it does not make sense to combine more of the same thing and end up with a totally different product. That's what happens on the periodic table. It is mind-bending to think about, and that's why I like watching those sciency shows.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Search terms

This is a special message to everyone who found my blog via these search terms:


"gay triceraton"

"mary poppins text"

"watership down text"

""don't shop when you're hungry" "no no no""

""james steele" nike"

"the brave little toaster online read"


I wish I had what you were searching for. Really, I do.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Lion in My Bed

New story published in The New Flesh, Lion in My Bed.

This is one of my favorites, and one of my oldest attempts at flash fiction. It was also my first 4x6 story. A very small group of people will remember when I first printed it on a 4x6 photo print and kept it behind the photo lab counter for curious people to discover. Feels good to see it on a real publication at last!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What makes good ambient music?

What makes good ambient music? Ambient music, such as that by Loscil, has a melody, but it’s very subtle. It has structure, it has form, but it understates this structure instead of shoving it in our faces.

It is not, or should not be holding down one key on a synthesizer for ten minutes and charging us 5 bucks for 6 tracks of it. That is not ambient music. It’s lazy. Loscil’s newest album, Coast/ Range/ Arc, does just this.

The rest of his albums are great. They have subtle structure and melody, but not this one. Goat Mountain is the only track that has any real structure. The rest... he holds down a couple synth keys for the whole length of the track and that’s it.

I recommend albums like Submers, First Narrows, and Endless Falls. That’s what good ambient music is.

I've also discovered the soundtrack to Schizm. Didn't play the game, but the music is great!

Along those same lines is the soundtrack to Riven. One of the ultimate chillout albums, and obviously the album from which Schizm took its cues.

And I don't know if they count as ambient, but they're pretty damn close. Boards of Canada!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Why bother with a gas grill?

I don't understand why people buy gas grills. They spend upwards of $600 for these things, and what are they but stoves you can use outdoors? If you cook a hamburger on a gas grill, it tastes exactly the same as if you'd cooked it on your stovetop. I say if you're gonna barbecue, get a charcoal grill. They're cheaper, and the hamburgers will taste like they've been barbecued!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Seek the original: How to Train Your Dragon

90% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original! What did the author write? As the last person in the world to see the popular movie, I thought I'd read the book first...


How to Train Your Dragon
by Cressida Cowell
(review originally posted on JournalStone)

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and eighteen other boys are about to be initiated into their Viking tribe. To do that, every Viking boy must steal a dragon directly from the nest and train it to hunt for him and obey basic commands. Then, on the initiation day months later, they will prove they have what it takes to be a Viking by forcing a beast as heartless and uncooperative as a dragon to obey. It’s the Viking way.

I’ve always wondered why books for young adults tend to have the same protagonist. Every kid’s book meant for boys I’ve ever read has this main character: physically lacking, nothing special, is often told he’s destined for greatness, always the target of bullies and teasing, and ironically the very thing he’s been teased for is what ends up saving the day. Then I realized something. What kind of preadolescent boy is most likely to read a book?

It’s obvious who this book is intended for, and because Hiccup fits the profile, it gives away the ending on the first page. He’s not a good Viking. He’s small, he’s wimpy, he’s not good at fighting, or yelling, or being a hero, and he’s powerless to stand up to the bullies who torture him for being what he is, but of course because it’s a kid’s book, you know where this is headed.

The boys nearly lose their lives stealing their dragons because Hiccup happens to have a friend who is only slightly less competent than himself, Fishlegs. (It’s he who wakes the dragons up, but for no apparent reason everyone blames Hiccup.) While fleeing the nest of waking dragons, Hiccup gives his dragon to Fishlegs because Fishlegs didn’t get one, and Hiccup goes back into the cave to fetch another one. It’s crazy, but Hiccup comes back with a dragon of his own. A tiny, non-threatening dragonette. He names him Toothless because he lacks teeth.

The bullies that inhabit this kid’s life are the usual type. They have names like Snotlout, Wartihog and Dogsbreath The Duhbrain. All they do is tease and mock Hiccup and his miniscule dragon. Their only motivation is to make Hiccup feel worse about himself than he already does because, frankly, he deserves it. I know I deserved it when I was a kid, but I didn’t know I deserved it until High School, when I grew up and stopped being so awkward.

Hiccup himself knows he deserves it for not being tough, strong or a fighter--three things every Viking should be. His miniscule dragon sure isn’t helping. How is a dragon the size of a housecat, and without teeth, going to earn him entry into his tribe? Furthermore, the only advice he gets on how to train a dragon is to yell at it, which he can’t do either. Hiccup tries everything he can think of to get Toothless to obey, but the tiny dragon refuses to listen. Dragons are heartless and have no sense of gratitude, unlike dogs, so his situation is hopeless.

But Hiccup does have one trick up his sleeve. He can speak Dragonese. Yes, Hiccup has been watching dragons since he was even younger. He knows a lot more about them than the average Viking, and somehow he can speak their language. There’s no explanation for how he acquires this ability, so just go along with it.

Dragons apparently love jokes, and Hiccup is able to use this as the proverbial carrot on a stick to get the dragon at least to feign obedience. “Catch me a fish and I’ll tell you a joke.” It works, though Toothless whines about it the whole time.

Then a seadragon, big as a mountain, crawls up from the ocean floor and perches on the beach, ready to eat everyone in the clan. Yelling at it doesn’t work, it’s too big to fight, they can’t run away, they’re as good as dead.

But wait! The nerd can speak to dragons! Of course! Adults are only capable of indecisive bickering after all, so the kids will have to save the day!

Uh oh…talking to the massive dragon doesn’t work. Now it’s up to Hiccup’s booksmarts and cunning to outsmart it! Naturally, the bullies are reduced to taking orders from Hiccup, and Hiccup and Toothless are heroes!

It’s what every kid reading this book wants to believe will happen, and it’s what parents and teachers tell them, too. Sure, you’re being picked on now, but one day your brain will make you a success, so don’t listen to those bullies. You’ll have the last laugh eventually. That’s what this book is all about.

Toothless is fairly useless throughout the story because he is, of course, a heartless dragon. He’s the size of a housecat and lacks teeth, so there’s very little he can do except chase mice and catch fish. Mostly he whines about his wings being tired, or how he doesn’t feel like hunting today. But at the end he has a change of heart and he flies in to rescue Hiccup in his moment of need.

It goes against every hint of logic the book establishes! Why does Toothless decide to be selfless now? Instead of providing a good reason, the narrator simply breaks the fourth wall with “who knows why Toothless had this change of heart. Maybe it was this, maybe it was that, maybe we’ll never know, but he did.”

I wanted to know. Maybe a future book in the series answers this question, but it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger. More like a shortcut to get to the conclusion. I’d sure like for Toothless to have been a real character with some development, instead of just the pet.

I respect this story because Hiccup is an active main character. Unlike a certain boy in a certain wizard school, Hiccup takes action. He knows things that will win the battle, he influences the events, and he takes charge. He deserves to be the hero, and earns his place in the tribe.

I’d still like to know how he came to know Dragonese though. Seems learning about dragons in general is frowned upon in Viking society, so how could he possibly learn how to talk to them? Oh well, it’s for the kids, and owning a dragon for a pet is something every little boy would get all giddy thinking about. It also has all the things little boys find funny: underwear, snot, burly men reduced to dressing in women’s clothing, boogers, and exploding heads! A good read if you remember its intended audience.

Compare that to...



How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
by Dreamworks Pictures

There are rare occasions when the movie adaptation turns out even better than the book. I want to say this is another one, but...can this be called an adaptation?

In the book, every Viking's duty is to learn how to train a dragon as part of becoming a full member of the tribe. In the movie, all Vikings have a duty to learn how to kill dragons and defend their village.

In the book, dragons speak their own language. In the movie, dragons don't speak at all.

Hiccup himself is not a preadolescent boy. He's a teenager. He's still awkward and clumsy and as non-viking as anyone can get, but he's a totally different character.

Toothless is not the size of a house cat. He's as big as a car, has teeth, and doesn't speak.

The bullies are no longer stereotypical, whiny kids who mock Hiccup just because he's Charlie Brown, er, uh, Hiccup. They're other teenagers who are also learning how to fight dragons, and they mock Hiccup because his screwups almost get them killed. They actually have a good reason to hate him.

The book is about kids training dragons. The movie is about Hiccup's discovery that dragons do not need to be killed, and can even be tamed. The movie and the book have nothing in common besides the character names and the basic setting. Makes me wonder why this is considered an adaptation. But I don't mind because the movie actually tells a stronger story.

In the novel, Hiccup can speak to dragons, but it doesn't tell us how he learns to do this, or why. This ability doesn't even have much of an impact on the story, seeing that Toothless is essentially useless for most of the book and talking to the seadragon doesn't get Hiccup anywhere. But because he's read a lot of books or something, Hiccup knows everything about dragons and his booksmarts are what save the village.

The movie, however, shows us how he learns so much about dragons! It's the movie's focus! Hiccup learns about them by being nice to them instead of killing them on sight! Because Hiccup is doing things differently from the Viking way, he figures things out that no one else knows, and this is what saves his tribe! It makes me wish the book had approached the story from this angle!

The book comes across as juvenile, with its frequent snot and underwear jokes. The movie removes all of that and replaces it with a very mature story about standing up for a new way of doing things and proving your way is better, even though tradition is against you.

But the adults aren't completely useless (as in the book), just misinformed. Because we see why the Vikings were wrong about dragons, we respect Hiccup for going against the Viking tradition. The movie shows where Hiccup's knowledge comes from, and why his way is right, so he earns the privilege to be put in charge and save his village.

In the book, Hiccup is given this role just because he's the kid who happens to talk to dragons and he knows everything about them. It comes across as pandering to the preadolescent male bookreader (i.e. the young nerd), telling them what they want to hear, that being nerdy is okay because someday their booksmarts will make them heroes. The movie portrays Hiccup as a boy who earns his dragon knowledge because he's different from what a Viking should be. He's not just a wimpy, nerdy kid. He's the first Viking to investigate dragons instead of kill them.

In every possible way, the story became better as a movie. Watching Hiccup research dragons is way more interesting than reading about Charlie Brown, er--Hiccup trying (and failing) to train a whiny, selfish dragonette. It's everything the book should've been.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Deceptive Box Art

One thing that frequently pissed me off as a kid was the box art of video games. Especially old NES games. It never failed. The box would feature gorgeous artwork, but turn on the game and...

Where is it?!

I hated it when the box art misrepresented the game. I felt cheated, and I know it jaded me for life. Here are some of the worst offenders.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3

See the box? That's a Triceraton on the cover. Hell yeah, cool! But surprise! There's not a single Triceraton in the game! As a kid, this pissed me off. As an adult, I wonder what happened. Didn't the box art guys and the game designers talk to each other? I was disappointed, but the game is quite good, so I wasn't devastated.


Wolfenstein 3D

Ah, time for a real letdown. Look at the box art of the original game. It shows these dramatic, hollywood-esque images of a burly Rambo-style hero mowing down Nazis with a minigun. Then you install the game, and the pixels just barely form the suggestion of recognizable enemies.

Believe me, I understand the limitations of graphics in the early 90's, but for the love of God why does the box art have to look better than the game?! It made me wish I was playing THAT game!


American McGee's Alice

Even as late as 1998 game graphics hadn't quite caught up to what the concept art looked like. Images like this:


and this


made me think holy shit this is gonna be orgasm in my eyes! Buuuuut it turns out the Quake 3 engine is outstanding at rendering internal environments, but totally sucks at external ones. Furthermore, most of the characters have this vacant stare going on, especially the rabbit and the griffin.

That image above, the tea party with the Hatter? Never happens in the game. The boss fight with the Hatter is actually disappointing. He doesn't do anything but walk around and be threatening. Just stay away from him and you'll beat him eventually after a few hundred hits.

It's not a bad game. Hell no, the game is fucking awesome! I just wish it had been made during a time when the game engine could do justice to the promotional art. Maybe I'll get my wish.


Schizm

The biggest offender of game art misrepresenting the final product. I bought this title on a whim around when it first came out. The box art was gorgeous--absolutely jaw-dropping, and I had just bought a computer that could handle it. So I paid fifty bucks, waited over an hour for a full install, loaded it...

...and the graphics looked like Realplayer on 28.8. Blocky, stuttering, full of compression artifacts. I couldn't make out anything I was looking at. I sensed there was a beautiful vista of an alien landscape in the distance, but I couldn't see it because the pixels were the size of cockroaches!

Had I done something wrong? I reinstalled the game, and another hour later, same result. The graphics were terrible. I checked my system specs and they exceeded the game's minimum. What was wrong?

I was reduced to searching the internet for answers. It took some digging, but it turns out there were two versions of the game, one for CD-ROM, the other for DVD-ROM. The CD-ROM version had much-reduced graphical quality, while the DVD version had the real deal. The game company used screenshots from the DVD edition as the box art for the CD edition!

THIS is the DVD version:


Now imagine those graphics like this (image taken from the Just Adventure forum, click to enlarge):

and you have the CD-ROM graphics.

Understand that this was 2002. DVD drives were not standard equipment on computers back then. They were up in the $200-$500 range at the time, so it wasn't as simple as just buying a DVD drive for my computer. On top of that, no stores carried it because there was no market for it yet.

The box promised a gorgeous game! I wanted to play that game, not this piece of blocky shit. It was a dirty trick to bait us with the box art from the DVD version, and then deliver terrible graphics. Talk about deception--that should’ve been illegal! I wrote an email to the company venting my frustration. The answer I got back read something like: "If you would like to exchange the CD version for the DVD version, we can arrange this."

I was so pissed I threw the game in the trash. The company cheated me and there was nothing I could do about it. There wouldn't be anything I could do about it for years, until DVD drives became cheaper. I have since searched for the DVD version of the game, but it's very hard to come by, and from what I've read the game itself is not worth it. To my surprise I don't find a lot of people mentioning how bad the graphics are on the CD edition. I couldn't have been the only one who was deceived.


These days, graphics have come a long way. The box art finally matches the game itself! In fact, there's no such thing as box art. The graphics are so good developers just use screenshots for the box! Finally, honesty!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New story online: Turtle Juice

A quickie little story of mine is online. Head on over to Bizarro Central to read Turtle Juice!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Seek the original: Brokeback Mountain

90% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original! What did the author write? I've wanted to do this one for a long time, and I finally got around to reading the original story.


Brokeback Mountain
by Annie Proulx

Before I begin, I won't forgive myself if I don't plug this. Until this story was published in The New Yorker, this is how the rest of the country knew Wyoming:



But now thanks to Annie Proulx, we know Wyoming as the setting for that story about two country boys who fall in love. This is proof that one person can change the world! Do not underestimate the power of writing! …and controversial sex.

It begins in 1963. Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are high school dropouts looking for work wherever they can. They find it on a ranch. The rancher is looking for people to sleep on the mountain and guard the sheep during the summer. So these two spend the summer on Brokeback Mountain, watching sheep, shooting coyotes and the breeze.

Then on a cold night, Ennis nearly freezes and Jack shouts at him to sleep in the tent for Christ’s sake. So, huddled in a sleeping bag together, Jack “seized Ennis’s left hand and brought it to his erect cock.”

Wow. For a story that had been so eloquently written for some ten pages, it sure blasts us with this shock. Then Ennis goes along with it! There’s no stated explanation for why this happens. It’s definitely spur-of-the-moment, and from that moment on, they never speak of it directly. Sex just happens on its own, sheep be damned.

When the job ends in the fall, they go their separate ways, live their separate lives. They both agree it was a one-time thing. Nobody’s business but theirs. Jack and Ennis get married, have kids. Then, four years later, Jack finally finds Ennis again and they meet up. And like before, sex just happens.

They get a hotel room. Jack says he wants to run away and start a life together. Hell, it’s the 60’s, a man can just up and drive away to some other part of the country and nobody will ever find him again. Ennis is the one who holds back. He’s got a wife and kids, and he doesn’t want to leave them. But he does admit he never should have let Jack out of his sight after their job on the mountain ended. He likes doing it with women, but he’s whacked off thinking about Jack countless times. At the same time he’s scared for his life thanks to his dad showing him what happens to queers in these parts.

Thus sets the cycle for the rest of their lives. Meeting up once or twice a year. Even after his wife leaves him, Ennis still doesn’t run away with Jack. Meanwhile, Jack is the dreamer. He recognizes he’s happier with Ennis than with anyone else and wants to run with that. He resents Ennis for not running with him.

But nothing lasts forever. Their friendship is cut short, and now that there’s no chance of it happening, Ennis is finally ready to make the leap with Jack.

Brokeback Mountain paints a very sad picture of a chance not taken, and feelings never acted upon, but still there. I can see how it got into The New Yorker. It presents the scenario without being vulgar or disgusting.

Compare that to…


Brokeback Mountain (2005)
starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal

And directed by… Ang Lee?? Yes, the man who directed a movie about gay cowboys also directed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the year 2000, and Hulk in 2003. How the hell do you go from Hulk to Brokeback Mountain?!

Then there's Ennis, played by Heath Ledger. How do you go from playing a gay cowboy to the Joker!? I think it shows just how talented Ledger really was and why it's such a shame he died.

First, I applaud the movie for daring to tell a story that nobody else had to guts to tell. Even in 2005, this was a pretty taboo thing to discuss. To its credit, the movie follows the original story fairly close, but a few key details were left out that made all the difference.

The film starts off on Brokeback Mountain. Two guys watching sheep for a season. Ennis sleeps outside, while Jack sleeps in the tent. All is fine until it gets cold out and it forces them to sleep in the same bed to keep warm. Then suddenly they have sex.

In the story, we’re told very clearly what leads up to it, but of course you can’t show that in a movie without getting an NC-17 rating, so it just comes out of nowhere. It sure confused me when I saw it. Like…damn, where did that come from?

Here’s the problem with movies trying to address this subject. Movies are a visual medium. The story just tells us what happens the rest of the summer on the mountain, and we can accept this because it doesn’t have to shove the details in our face anymore. To show it in the movie would’ve given us no choice but to look at it, so the movie doesn’t show much of their time together on the mountain.

Then the scene where they part ways. Ennis breaks down crying, but it doesn’t explain why. The story does, in the hotel room when they meet up again after four years, but the movie leaves this information out.

That’s what’s missing from the film. A sense of genuine affection. In the story, we see very clearly that Ennis and Jack really do love each other. They actually talk about it, how much better this is than with any woman. It shows them close, it shows them getting personal, even discussing the possibility of running away together.

This conversation never happens in the movie, but it should have, because it’s the most important in the story. It shows exactly how they feel about each other, without sex. I don’t understand why this wasn’t done in the movie. There is a perfectly clean scene in the story where Jack just walks up behind Ennis and holds him. They share a moment without ever getting physical, and this could’ve been a great way to show they really do love each other.

In the movie, we see more of them fighting and arguing than sharing genuine affection and enjoying their time together. These two men are never portrayed as a couple in love, or hell, even as friends, and this imbalance undermines the story. They very rarely speak to each other, and when they do it's rarely anything deep or meaningful. From what we can see and hear, they spend most of the movie fighting. Aren't they supposed to be in love?

The short story is a narrative. It’s not shown so much as told, and this works all right for the most part. But a movie has to show everything that’s told, so it bulks up the story with plenty of scenes of daily life. The screenwriters were trying to convey the contrast between the aggravating, depressing and even impoverished lives they lead, with the ideal, carefree life they have together.

I get that we're supposed to understand their life with each other is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than their real lives, but the movie never shows this. We don't get to see this ideal existence, so it never comes across as preferable to their real lives.

Again, the story just states it, so the movie had to adapt it into something shown, but it doesn’t work. The fireworks scene with Ennis, for example. It’s striking, but it doesn’t add anything to the story. So he punches that guy out because he's being disrespectful, so what? Jack’s argument with his father-in-law at the dinner table is another scene like this. Striking moment, but it doesn’t mean anything, and this is the majority of the movie. Not the romance, but their everyday lives.

The movie also tries to portray the confusion Ennis is going through, and rightly so. Ennis is confused that he has feelings for this man, and it takes him decades to come to terms with it. This confusion is not a big deal in the story, but it makes sense to show this angle. But since he lacks the vocabulary to express it, we're never let in on it, and these emotions do not come across visually. It's a puzzle what's going on in his head.

But the ending is heartbreaking. I admit it caught me off guard. Ennis’s final words in the film are barely audible, and they're loaded with meaning. But the movie never gets across Ennis's internal dilemma, and it never portrays these two men as genuinely in love, so the meaning is lost.

The movie tried so hard to adapt this story into a personal drama, and it could’ve worked if the film hadn’t left out the conversations between Jack and Ennis. Those were the moments the story showed them connecting on a personal level, and the movie needed to show that, too. Maybe it was going for these two being "normal" men. Never talking about their feelings, not even aware they even have feelings. You know, the strong, silent kind of guy. It doesn't help portray them as lovers when they never show it or talk about it.

Again, bravo to the movie for even attempting it, but the original story does a better job showing that these two men really do love each other.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Video Games That Left Me Hollow

I've played games that made me cry. Others that made me scream. Then there's the category in the middle. The ones that left me snorting in disgust, thinking was that it? This has happened quite a bit over the years. One of the biggest offenders was


Sonic Adventure

Released in 1998 for the Dreamcast, it was one of the first 3D platformers, and boy does it show. Three words best describe this game: haste makes waste.

I can forgive the sparse landscapes. It was a first generation 3D game. Everyone was still trying to figure out how to make a 3D platformer, so I understand why the game feels sparse. i can even forgive the camera bugs to a point. Every early platformer had this problem. Nobody knew how the camera should behave, and it's because of trial and error done on these early games that game designers figured it out.

But I can't forgive the camera bugs this time. At the start of the game (Chaos 0), they are horrible! The camera zips around erratically, sometimes panning to Sonic's feet for no apparent reason, and getting the camera to point at the enemy he's fighting is a pain in the ass. It's very possible to die on the very first playable area just because the camera is an enemy unto itself!



And the problems just keep getting worse. Each level is short and narrow with no room to move or run. Some of them are just plain annoying, like the Casino area. It's long, boring, slow and adds nothing in the way of fun. The Adventure Fields are a total waste of time, as are the humans populating this new world.

The cutscenes are laughable! Characters are constantly bouncing up and down, and for no apparent reason, so you can't take anything they say or do seriously. The voice acting is also awkward (at least here in North America). Knuckles' emotionless "oh no" is especially lousy. The story also makes no sense. It sure tries to build up to a grand finale, but it fails.

Finally, the Chao are stupid.

I liked the multiple storylines. I really did. I especially like how Knuckles' and Big's stories came together. Tails finally has a decent role as well, though his flying is pathetically limited. Knuckles has better flying than Tails, and that's sacrilege in my book. The variety in gameplay is refreshing, and seeing these multiple stories come together is great. Especially e-102 gamma's. A bird trapped in a robot's body seeking to free both himself and his family from their robotic bodies. It's a story that can only be done in the Sonic universe and it's the best in the game! That, and the game's soundtrack make it worth finishing!

But the story as a whole is a confusing mess. By the time I reached the final boss I still didn't know what was going on, and that pissed me off! Such an enormous buildup and nothing makes sense!

It's pretty well-known Sonic Team was pressured to release the game before it was finished in order to meet the Dreamcast's shipping deadline. The proof is in the game itself. The early levels are littered with camera bugs, cramped environments and awkward cutscenes. Then, in the game's later levels, the environments become more refined and the camera glitches all but disappear. Levels are still cramped, but they sure feel a lot more like real environments instead of graphics demos. I guess the story was evolving at the same time as the graphics, too. Maybe it would've made more sense had Sonic Team been given more time to develop the game.

Everything about Sonic Adventure is half-done, but it never feels like a bad game. Rather like a first draft. It left me wanting the finished product.


Prototype

I bought this on a whim, having read no reviews and having no idea what the game was even about. I found out quick what the game was about. Button-mashing!

Sure, you have a ton of special moves. Your hands can become blades and whips, you can run up buildings and glide, take down helicopters and absorb people for heath. You're fighting all the time. Hunters dash out of nowhere and ram you and it's up to you how to take them out. Blades. Whips. Hammerfists. But really if you just mash buttons you'll succeed every time. I hate that. It's like a bad fighting game.



Not only are the controls confusing and needlessly complicated, there's no need to get good with them! Random button-mashing does the job perfectly. You know you're playing a game that's way too complicated when tutorial popups instructing you how to play the game are still popping up past the midpoint!

The game claims to be open-world, but it's not. An open-world, sandbox game allows you to explore the world freely, uncovering new stories, meeting new characters, etc. The only thing you can do between missions in Prototype is find challenges. Kill this many enemies in the time limit. Catch all the glowy thingies in the time limit. Scale this building in the time limit. Each as pointless as the last because your only reward is experience points (evolution points in this game), and you acquire more than enough of those during the story missions.

The game looks so much like Grand Theft Auto it feels like it should be open-world, but Prototype is linear. There's nothing to do between missions, so the only thing left is to do the next part of the story. It tries to disguise itself as an open-world game, probably to cash in on the popularity of the genre instead of being bold and doing its own thing. The deception is insulting. Wouldn't be so bad if there was something to see in Manhattan, but there's absolutely nothing. Just bland city and generic crowds.

The story is revealed in snippets spread out over the whole game. Prototype's story is weak and typical, so to make it seem more dramatic the developers broke the story into literally 100 pieces, scattered them randomly around the game world and left it up to the player to find them and piece them together. I got it after the first ten pieces: genetic experiment, funded by the government, experimented on civilians, now it's loose on Manhattan. Duh. Let's move on.

I will give the game credit for the big boss, Elizabeth Greene. This boss is tough, tense and overwhelming. Yes, that's the right word. She is overwhelming and intimidating. It's not very often you feel that in a video game, but this boss sure scared me. It's the best part of the game, and it should've been the final boss, but no, the story just keeps on dragging.

And the big twist in the story doesn't make any sense. Alex Mercer is dead. The man you're playing is not Alex, but the virus itself. That's cool, but if he is the virus, why would he want to stop the virus from spreading? There's a real contradiction with his motivation. After the game's big twist, I lost interest. I didn't even bother to finish.


Super Mario World

I'm probably gonna take a lot of heat for this one, but hear me out, please. Super Mario World was the Super Nintendo's launch title. This is supposed to be the Mario of the future! Why does it feel smaller than Mario 3?

Mario 3 was enormous, and even playing it as an adult it took me quite a bit of effort to make it through without warping. SMW, however, did not. The game is pretty lacking on challenge compared to its predecessor. Yoshi doesn't add much to the gameplay either. He's more of a pain to hang onto than a benefit. Sure there are some areas you can't reach without him, and he is one extra hit, but for most of the game there's no benefit to having him.

For an SNES game, I expected a lot more variety in the levels, but for the most part each level looks and plays the same as the last. Mario 3 had a ton of variety! Desert Land, Ice Land, Dark Land. SMW... The dungeons are the same. The overworld levels are the same. The castles are all the same. Even the music is the same, just variations on the theme.

The final boss is challenging, but what the hell is up with that clown copter Bowser is riding?! Remember Mario 3's boss, how badass Bowser looked? I was terrified of him, even though he's quite easy to beat. In SMW, he looks so cartoonish riding that thing. He's more of a challenge than in Mario 3, but threatening he ain't.



I was disappointed. Mario 3 felt so much bigger, more difficult, more real. SMW felt like Mario became more colorful and cartoony just to show off the graphics of the Super Nintendo. I finished the game thinking that was it?